What is Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)?
Autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), is a neurological disorder impacting social skills, development, and behavior. It is estimated that 1 in 66 Canadian children and youth between 5-17 years of age have been diagnosed with autism. Estimates suggest that males are diagnosed with autism 4 times more than females.
Individuals, and more often children, diagnosed with ASD commonly exhibit comorbid symptoms such as aggression, hyperactivity, self-injury, aggressiveness, sleep disorders, and anxiety. Pharmaceutical treatment methods include the use of various psychotropic medications, anxiolytics, and stimulants. Non-pharmaceutical treatment options include behavioral management therapy, cognitive behavior therapy, and education/school-based therapies to name a few.
There are many subtypes of autism, most influenced either by genetic or environmental factors. As a spectrum disorder, every individual with autism has their own strengths and challenges. Some people with autism can live entirely independent lives, while others require more specialized support.
How is Autism Spectrum Disorder tested for?
In North America, medical professionals use the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) (revised May 2013) to evaluate autism spectrum disorder. An ASD diagnosis is based on several different factors, as well as defines the level of severity. Individuals with Autism generally display repetitive behavior patterns with restricted interests, difficulty interacting and communicating with others, and have symptoms that impact their ability to function properly in their day-to-day life.
Although an ASD diagnosis can occur at any age, early signs of autism usually present themselves by age 2 or 3. Some children with developmental delays can be diagnosed as early as 18 months. While there is no cure for autism, the earlier a diagnosis can be confirmed, the earlier any necessary treatment can begin which can lessen the severity of symptoms.
Diagnosing adults with autism spectrum disorder is more challenging as there are currently no standard diagnostic criteria for adults with suspected ASD. When assessing adults, many psychologists use the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule, Second Edition (ADOS-2). Clinicians will primarily diagnose adults with suspected ASD through visual observations and interactions. Those who feel they may display the characteristics of autism as an adult should speak with their family physician for a referral for further assessment.
What is CBD?
Cannabidiol (CBD) is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid found in the cannabis plant. This chemical component is found in both marijuana (cannabis sativa) and hemp plants. As CBD is found in plant resin, marijuana is often used to produce CBD products due to its high resin content.
CBD does not produce the “high” feeling that many people associate with cannabis. CBD interacts with one’s own endocannabinoid system – an innate system of neurotransmitters that regulate physiological and cognitive responses to stress.
Once extracted from the cannabis plant, CBD is produced into various products such as oils, edibles, and drinks. The continual growth of clinical research alongside patient testimonials and support shows that the positive health effects of CBD can assist with pain relief, sleep disorders, and many various mental health conditions.
Patients can purchase CBD products directly from a Health Canada approved Licensed Producer after being prescribed by a Healthcare Practitioner. The CBD products available through a Licensed Producer are far different from products you can purchase from your local health food store which are hemp-based.
The Cannabis Act does not put an age restriction on the usage of medical cannabis, or medically prescribed CBD. Children, alongside a parent or guardian, are permitted to obtain a medical cannabis recommendation as long as it is managed by a licensed medical professional. Here at Apollo, our healthcare team includes Nurse Practitioners, Doctors, and Specialists to assist patients of all ages and backgrounds, including pediatric doctors.
Medical cannabis and Autism Spectrum Disorder
Research & Studies
The NCBI has conducted several studies regarding the use of CBD oil in children with ASD and suggests there could be a correlated improvement of common unwanted symptoms associated with Autism.
A 2018 study looked at whether or not CBD could be used to treat ASD and related symptoms. Results found that out of the 53 children who received CBD oil, 71.4% saw an improvement in sleep problems, 67.6% saw a reduction in self-injury and attacks while hyperactivity improved by 68.4%.
The tolerance, safety, and effective symptom relief provided by CBD oil were shown in a 2019 study that looked at 188 autistic individuals. 48.7% of those involved in the study reported a significant improvement in their overall symptoms. Some reported side effects included reflux issues, lack of appetite, and sleepiness. Most participants in the study noticed a gradual decrease in their symptoms over the course of a 6 month period.
Around the world, continual studies are taking place to determine what a safe and effective dosing schedule looks like for children with autism.
A common concern surrounding the use of medical cannabis is its interaction with other medications and is one of the main reasons we always recommend working with a healthcare practitioner when utilizing medicinal cannabis. Oftentimes medical cannabis is not used in isolation, but alongside other treatment options (both medical and non-medical).
Prescribing CBD for Autism Spectrum Disorder in Canada
Apollo’s own Dr. Williams, who has been prescribing medical cannabis for over 12 years, was surprised at how much cannabis has helped patients with autism spectrum disorder. Regarding the impact of cannabis on patients, she noted “Sometimes a child with ASD will be allowed back into a school or make a friend”. When asked why a patient should follow the guidance of a physician for their medical cannabis journey, she mentioned it’s “To help create a personalized dosing strategy for that individual and review any potential drug interactions. To discuss the overall management of their condition and receive support and encouragement, as we are dealing with challenging problems”.
Individuals who are considering medical cannabis as a treatment plan for themselves, or a loved one, are encouraged to contact us for a free consultation. Our healthcare practitioners work with the parents & caregivers to address your specific concerns and symptoms to ensure you feel safe, informed, and supported. We are happy to work with parents, caregivers, and legal guardians to ensure
We are an evidence-based clinic that has been conducting observational research on medical cannabis and conditions since 2014. Our staff includes health care professionals to assist patients of all ages and backgrounds, including pediatric doctors.
We hope you found this article educational and informative. As a doctor’s office, we want to share education and knowledge with our patients and the public when it comes to medical cannabis. You can see a list of many common conditions we see in clinics here, including anxiety, arthritis, sleep issues, chronic pain, endometriosis, and many more.
If you are interested in speaking with a physician about how medical cannabis could help improve your quality of life, you can book your free virtual appointment here.